In this week’s power outages in India, more than 700 million people lost electricity — more than the combined population of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Twenty of India’s 28 states were affected in the outages on Tuesday, which happened almost immediately after another huge blackout on Monday that lasted 14 hours.

The blackout on Tuesday stopped hundreds of trains (we wonder how this solar-powered train fared), and stranded passengers along thousands of miles of track. Hundreds of miners were trapped underground when elevators stopped working. Surgeries were cancelled in hospitals, many of which didn’t have adequate backup power. Traffic lights stopped working, leading to traffic jams. And 89 percent humidity made residents pine for air conditioning and electric fans.

The cause of the blackouts hasn’t been pinpointed, but some officials think that the power demand from some states was to blame. India’s quickly growing middle class is using more power, and a long heat wave has added to demand. Air conditioners are becoming more common in India among wealthier families, but many others still live in poverty; one third of the population lacks any access to electricity at all.

Right now, India gets most of its electricity from coal. Hydroelectric power is another source, but lower-than-expected rain has meant less generation this year. Renewable energy in India is growing, though it still remains a small percentage of overall power. Wind energy is one of the major renewable sources, and India is now one of the largest wind-generating countries in the world. Still, it’s currently more expensive than fossil fuel power plants, and that’s a barrier to faster growth. This week is a reminder that India needs more sources of energy, and it needs them quickly.

Main image credit: Ajay Tallam/Flickr